Councillor criticises ‘backwards approach’ to plan development

Coun Steven Bridgett has raised concerns about the Local Plan.
Coun Steven Bridgett has raised concerns about the Local Plan.

A Northumberland councillor has accused the authority of ‘putting the cart before the horse’ in the development of its new Local Plan.

Coun Steven Bridgett, who represents the Rothbury ward, has raised concerns that the draft of the development framework has been published ahead of the supporting evidence.

The key document was unveiled earlier this month and the council’s decision-making cabinet approved it for public consultation last Thursday. This process will start on Wednesday, July 4.

But Coun Bridgett said that he is ‘somewhat troubled’ by the way the plan is being developed, raising his concerns with Coun John Riddle, the cabinet member for planning and housing.

His specific issue relates to the housing and economic growth options report; “I find it extremely worrying that the report is neither included in the supporting documentation nor is it actually ready,” he said.

“I am sure that you do not need reminding that it is the information that is contained within this report that justifies the housing figures proposed and contained within the new local development framework.

“So I am struggling to understand the somewhat backwards approach that is being taken, in so much that we have figures contained within the new local plan that are from a report that is still in its draft form, is not complete, nor has it been shared with any members of this authority.”

He also pointed out that this report is mentioned on page 45 of the draft plan and ‘one would assume that standard practice would be that the evidence base is also available and submitted to members alongside the draft local plan’.

But a spokeswoman for Northumberland County Council said: “Coun Riddle has assured Coun Bridgett that his concerns are unfounded – and that the detailed evidence gathered has informed the plan and not the other way around.

“There is a significant evidence base that sits behind the draft plan and this will be fully available for everyone to see during the consultation process.

“Regular reports on key findings from the emerging evidence base have been considered by the council’s LDF (local development framework) working group and this finalising of evidence for publication in the period up to the start of the consultation is entirely consistent with previous and standard approaches to preparing plans.

“Following approval by cabinet, there will be full and extensive consultation and engagement, when everyone with an interest in the plan will be able to scrutinise it and all supporting documents.”

Ben O'Connell, Local Democracy Reporting Service